Skip to main content

Pressure Sores Can Kill

By James Pink, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell 

I was interested to read an article regarding delays in Gloucestershire County Council receiving end-of-life equipment including pressure relieving equipment. 

The article really does raise the importance of the need for patients at risk - especially vulnerable patients who are immobile - to receive pressure relieving equipment without delay. 

Patients are at risk

A nurse is quoted in the article as saying: "Patients are at risk because the hospital beds come with pressure relieving mattresses and the whole point is to stop getting pressure sores which can actually kill people." 

I found this to be a very powerful statement and the reality is that pressure sores can kill if not treated and managed appropriately. 

Sores can lead to other life-threatening conditions such as sepsis

From my experience of working on a number of cases involving serious pressure sores, they can develop within hours if skin is exposed to prolonged pressure and/or moisture. They can become very serious causing severe infections such as sepsis and osteomyelitis which can result in death without appropriate care and equipment. 

Patients who are at the end of their life are at particular risk due to reduced mobility and impaired cognitive function and delays in receiving appropriate treatment could cost lives. 

Whilst most pressure sores can be treated and heal in time, they are very painful. They can devastate lives as they can be difficult to treat if they deteriorate, resulting in patients being confined to the beds for days, months and even years on end to allow the sore to heal. 

Appropriate care reduces the risk

Pressure sores are not always avoidable in some circumstances even with the best possible care when a person is very ill, but in the majority of circumstances they are and deterioration can be circumvented with appropriate treatment and equipment. Pressure sores are also very dangerous for paraplegics who are unable to feel pain when a pressure sore is developing and may not be able to reposition themselves in order to manage their pressure relief. 

When a pressure sore develops into a serious Grade 3 or 4 and breaches the deeper parts of the skin, they take longer to heal, increase the risk of infection and death and will leave the skin at increased risk to future damage even when the sore has healed because the scar tissue has reduced strength withstand prolonged periods of pressure. 

Added burden on the NHS

As a result, a person’s future care requirements will increase as they require more frequent repositioning and skin monitoring to avoid a recurrence. This is especially the case for people at end of their life or who are paralysed and who have reduced mobility. 

Not only is this devastating for the individual and their family as they may have to spend more time in bed, need more care and can have unsightly scarring, but it adds increased pressure on the NHS due to increasing care costs and  because avoidable pressure sores can result in significant negligence claims. 

All of this can be easily avoided with the provision of suitable equipment and care and it is alarming to hear that it is taking weeks for vulnerable people to receive suitable equipment.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and their families following care issues, including pressure sores, at our dedicated medical negligence section.

"Patients are at risk because the hospital beds come with pressure relieving mattresses and the whole point is to stop getting pressure sores which can actually kill people."”